I need 12-step meetings.
Last night was my first in a week, and that’s the longest I’ve gone between meetings since I began my recovery 51 days ago. I missed my usual Sunday and Tuesday meetings to spend time with Jenny and her parents, who were visiting from Los Angeles, and I had a lovely time with them. On Sunday we did a walking tour over the Brooklyn Bridge, and Tuesday night we went to the New York City Ballet for opening night of the spring season, an exquisite performance of modern classics by Balanchine.
This was all good, but by Wednesday and Thursday I was getting mawkish. Jenny had spent a lot of the time with her parents exploring her own past and theirs, and this led me into sentimental considerations of my own situation, especially as it pertains to my recovery from addiction. I was falling into the addict’s trap of looking back on the active addiction through rose-colored glasses, seeing it as sexy and adventurous and romantic. I was also feeling deeply lonely, and all of this was very much a self-absorbed mooning.
Last night’s meeting was a powerful corrective. There were several newcomers, all feeling the raw hurt and despair and terror and shame that I felt when I came in less than two months ago. There was nothing pretty about the pain they were feeling or the damage they felt so much shame for having done to their lives and to the people closest to them.
But there was hope, and I was not alone. We were in this together, and for 90 minutes I was pulled out of myself. I listened well last night and identified with much of what I heard. I was present for others, and they were present for me. And in those moments of being present for others, the whole question of life’s purpose simply disappeared.
Amazingly, what I experienced briefly last night is exactly what is described in the Ninth Step Promises (pp. 83-84 of the AA Big Book), which are read at every meeting:
If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us — sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.
I’m not saying that I was fully conscious of every one of these promises being fulfilled in the moment, and I’m definitely not saying that these promises have come true in my life overall. I haven’t earned them yet, for one thing; there’s still a long journey for me before I take on Step Nine.
What last night taught me, though, is that the Ninth Step Promises are a wordy way of describing a state of Zen. Notice that they’re not promises about the world beyond the self, but about one’s own perception and understanding. In a Zen state, there is no self-seeking, no worry, no fear, only freedom and happiness and serenity and peace. We enter into these states when we are fully engaged in what we are doing, fully present in the most profound sense. That kind of engagement is what I need to bring into my life, and I believe that the Twelve Step tradition is right to suggest that service to others is a powerful way to achieve it.
Looks like something I will need to explore further.